South Africa is in talks with Pfizer and Merck to gain access to their Covid-19 treatment pills as the omicron variant spreads across the country and cases almost double.

The country wants one of them to potentially produce the therapeutics in South Africa, Nicholas Crisp, deputy director-general in South Africa’s Department of Health, said in response to a lawmaker’s question on Wednesday.

“We are discussing those two and other matters with manufacturers so that we understand what it is they are selling, what it does,” he said.

South Africa has the highest number of confirmed cases of Covid-19 in Africa, with about 3 million infections and around 90,000 deaths officially attributed to the disease. The onset of omicron is triggering a fourth wave of infections. The medications are being considered by the National Essential Medicines List Committee as are their economic value, he said.

“We have done a numbers estimate with our colleagues in the provinces of the volumes we think we will be able to use of those two medications,” he said.

Merck and Pfizer are seeking approval from the US Food and Drug Administration for emergency use of their pills, known as molnupiravir and Paxlovid respectively.

South Africa recorded 8,561 infections on Wednesday, compared with 4,373 a day earlier, according to the National Institute for Communicable Diseases.

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